The purpose of this review is to summarize the current scientific knowledge of bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) in adult articular cartilage. We specifically focus on adult cartilage, since one of the major potential applications of the members of the BMP family may be a repair of adult tissue after trauma and/or disease. After reviewing cartilage physiology and BMPs, we analyze the data on the role of recombinant BMPs as anabolic agents in tissue formation and restoration in different in vitro and in vivo models following with the endogenous expression of BMPs and factors that regulate their expression. We also discuss recent transgenic modifications of BMP genes and subsequent effect on cartilage matrix synthesis. We found that the most studied BMPs in adult articular cartilage are BMP-7 and BMP-2 as well as transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta). There are a number of contradicting reports for some of these growth factors, since different models, animals, doses, time points, culture conditions and devices were used. However, regardless of the experimental conditions, only BMP-7 or osteogenic protein-1 (OP-1) exhibits the most convincing effects. It is the only BMP studied thus far in adult cartilage that demonstrates strong anabolic activity in vitro and in vivo with and without serum. OP-1 stimulates the synthesis of the majority of cartilage extracellular matrix proteins in adult articular chondrocytes derived from different species and of different age. OP-1 counteracts the degenerative effect of numerous catabolic mediators; it is also expressed in adult human, bovine, rabbit and goat articular cartilage. This review reveals the importance of the exploration of the BMPs in the cartilage field and highlights their significance for clinical applications in the treatment of cartilage-related diseases.